By this point, you’ve probably heard Cam Newton’s sexist comments directed at female Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue during Wednesday’s press conference.
You’ve probably also heard his apology, which he sent out via Twitter Thursday night.
But in case you haven’t, let’s review.
Rodrigue: “Cam, I know you take a lot of pride in seeing your receivers play well. Devin Funchess has seemed to really embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards. Does that give you a little bit of enjoyment to see him kind of truck-sticking people out there?”
Newton: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes, like…. It’s funny.”
It wasn’t funny. The comments were sexist, condescending and totally inappropriate, especially coming from one of the NFL’s most well-known stars who’s no stranger to adversity.
His apology, which landed online via Newton’s Twitter account about 24 hours late, did not explain why Newton said what he said in the first place — it seems likely we’ll never know why or how he believed that it was OK to openly mock a female reporter based solely on gender. It also did not directly address Rodrigue or mention her by name.
But it was succinct, clear and well-spoken, and, in my opinion, it was sincere and well-intentioned. It won’t erase his words, but it was a good start to right his wrong.
“After careful thought, I understand that my word choice was extremely degrading and disrespectful to women,” Newton said in the video apology. “To be honest, that was not my intentions. And if you are a person who took offence to what I said, I sincerely apologize to you.”
The NFL is a league whose audience is almost half made up of women; a league that employs women in all areas of the game, from the head office to the sidelines; a league reported on by countless women who somehow manage to understand routes (crazy, huh?).
Newton’s comments were a disappointing reminder that this is a conversation we still need to have.
Newton has faced harsh critics throughout his NFL career. He has, at times, been forced to defend his playing style and his status as an African-American quarterback who’s playing the game his way — and having fun with it. He’s had his leadership questioned, his sideline manners criticized, his celebrations scolded and his intensity called into doubt, and has consistently risen above it.
Race and minority representation is an important topic that has been front-of-mind in today’s sporting world amid anthem protests and political unrest that has made its way onto the football field, and Newton has been an important voice in that conversation. Take this past Sunday, for example, when he raised his fist after scoring a touchdown, then addressed it during his post-game presser afterwards:
“It was to signify black power, but more importantly, I pray every night for God to give me a pinnacle to give people hope,” Newton said. “I did it to… show black pride because I am an African-American.”
See, Newton so often uses his platform for good — he’s become known for his work with children in the North Carolina community, holds an annual charity kickball tournament each June and founded the Cam Newton Foundation in 2012. When he speaks, football fans listen — many of them young. So to see him on that podium dismissing a reporter’s question for the simple fact that she’s a woman talking about football felt like a punch to the gut.
Wednesday’s comments weren’t Newton’s first time in the spotlight for his actions during a press conference — he was criticized for moping through and storming out of his media availability following the Panthers’ Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos in 2016. His response to Rodrigue, however, is by far the most serious offence.
The fact that Newton spoke those words puts him at the centre of this story. The fact that Rodrigue was the target of his “joke” puts her squarely in the spotlight here, too, and we have since learned that she owed an apology of her own on Thursday after racist tweets were discovered on her Twitter timeline from 2012 and 2013.
But let’s zoom out for a minute. Newton isn’t the only sports personality to say something sexist, and Rodrigue is certainly not the only target. This happens on a daily basis, and you can check out Twitter for proof.
For example, clicking on Newton’s apology tweet will reveal some disturbing responses. The gist of many imply that we women have made too big a deal of Newton’s comments; that we’re all a bunch of delicate snowflakes who have overreacted; that we women can’t take a joke.
So, yeah, clearly we haven’t seen the last of this kind of conversation.
It remains unclear whether Newton will follow up his apology with some kind of action, or how he’ll be conducting himself this Sunday when he steps onto the podium. We also don’t yet know whether the team will take any action as a result of all this — remember, this is a club headed by coach Ron Rivera, who sat Newton for the opening series of a game last season for not wearing a tie the week before — though it doesn’t sound like the league will be stepping in.
“I think there are conversations going on at the club level with the appropriate people, with the Panthers,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said in a conference call Thursday, via The Associated Press. “I don’t want to anticipate the league stepping in there.”
Rivera also touched on the topic during a media availability on Thursday:
“I think Cam made a mistake,” he said. “I understand he had a conversation where he pretty much said he shouldn’t have said what he said.”
Yes, Newton apologized. And yes, it was well said and poignant. But it’s not the final word on the topic, nor should it be.
“I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this,” Newton said in his apology. “The young people who see this, I hope you learn something from this as well: Don’t be like me. Be better than me.”
It’s 2017. Let’s all be better, OK?